How To Build a Rock-Solid Process for Decision-Making During a Global Crisis

By: Andrew Conrad on May 14, 2020

Your process for decision-making doesn’t feel so complex when things are going smoothly and you’re just trying to stay the course.

Unfortunately, the last couple of months have been anything but smooth, and we’ll all have to continue navigating these choppy waters for the foreseeable future.

A rock solid process for decision-making is essential during times like these. However you’ve responded so far, there are actions that you can still take to give your business the best chance of survival, and help you respond effectively when the next crisis comes along.

Here, we’ll dive into three of the most important elements of an effective decision-making process.

1. Establish emergency communications

Poor communication can sink an organization during prosperous times, so if communication stops when a crisis hits, you’re just punching holes in the hull of an already sinking ship.

Office closures and a forced transition to remote work have complicated matters, but thankfully, the technology is available to make now easier than ever to communicate with your team from afar.

The best decisions are made by leveraging the collective wisdom of your team.

But it isn’t enough to just expect your team to seamlessly pick up the conversation that they would be having in a conference room and move it to your collaboration tool. You also need to set up a plan for who will communicate which information, over which channel, to which audience, as well as what the goal of each communication is.

Being proactive about communication is perhaps the most important first step you can take to guiding your organization through a crisis, because every good decision starts with good communication.

How to set up this process:

  • As a leader, you set the example for communication. If you bury yourself in a dark room and try to make difficult decisions on your own, your team will likely go silent as well, leading to further confusion and uncertainty. If you lead the conversation calmly and confidently from the start, your team will follow suit and you can work together to problem solve.

  • If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to draft a basic emergency communications plan for the next time there is an unexpected crisis. For starters, it can be as simple as determining who will contact the team in the event of an emergency, which information they will convey, and over which channel.

2. Defer some decisions until you have more perspective

It can be tempting to try to solve all the problems that come with a crisis while in the moment. But there is also something to be said for weathering the storm and not making hasty decisions that fix short term problems but yield bigger problems down the road.

For example, if your organization has struggled with remote work, you shouldn’t respond by canceling remote work as soon as it’s safe to do so. You may just need to better equip (through training and tools) your team to work remotely.

This may be a stress test that can help you identify gaps that your organization needs to fill to stay competitive in a post COVID-19 market. For example, according to Gartner research, 74% of organizations plan to permanently shift to more remote work post COVID-19:


(Full report available to Gartner clients)

Knowing that you’re in the middle of a crisis should inform your decision-making. If you lay off 90% of your sales staff now because sales are down, what position will you be in during the inevitable upturn when you need salespeople?

Instead, try to use those salespeople for customer retention or customer support—but be sure to double check your local laws for reclassification before reassignment. Taking a wait and see approach on decisions when you can afford the extra time could set your business apart from those that overreact.

How to set up this process:

  • When the crisis has passed, or at least stabilized, take time to review the lessons your organization learned from the crisis so that you can make business decisions based on those lessons in the future.

  • If you’re worried about waiting until it’s too late to make a difficult decision, your leadership team can establish cash flow thresholds to trigger when certain difficult decisions (layoffs, credit borrowing, etc.) need to be made.

3. Prioritize people ahead of business goals

It’s easy to position your business as “people first” when things are going well, but you’ll likely have to make some difficult decisions—such as laying off staff or raising prices to offset lost sales—during times of crisis.

It would be reckless to suggest that you should zig while everyone else is zagging by going on a hiring spree and trying to expand your business rapidly in the middle of a crisis. But the key to survival is to protect the employees and customers that you have already earned.

This isn’t just the ethical thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

Retaining customers is always more certain and stable than relying on the acquisition of new ones. Gartner research suggests that businesses “must rely on customer retention and the expansion of existing relationships to grow their business”—especially subscription-based businesses (full report available to clients).

This applies to hiring new employees too, as it can cost thousands of dollars and months of time to get a new employee up to speed. The customers and employees that you already have are among your most valuable assets.

Still, if your organization is struggling to stay afloat during a crisis, you may have to make tough calls. But even then, look to do things like instituting a hiring freeze or cutting bonuses before turning to layoffs, or shifting spend from marketing campaigns to customer retention efforts.

How to set up this process:

  • Anytime you are facing a difficult decision, first ask yourself “How will this decision affect our employees and our customers?” before you ask yourself “How will this decision affect our bottom line?” If it helps to visualize these impacts, write them down on a wall chart. Then, if you do have to make the difficult choice, at least you’ll be doing so with full perspective.

  • Consider the hidden costs of recruiting and customer acquisition before making decisions that help your bottom line in the short term but may be putting your business in a position to fail when the immediate crisis has passed.

Preparation prevents panic

We can all make better decisions by thinking calmly, and it’s easier to be calm when you’re prepared. Here are some more resources from Software Advice’s Coronavirus Resource Center to help you get there: